Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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21 Tammuz 5768 - July 24, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Hunters

by Yochonon Dovid

The group of young neophyte yeshiva students gathered for their shmuess with a kollel student from the yeshiva. An important feature of these talks was the openness and frankness in which they were held. Any student felt free to express his opinion, and Danny decided to air his views at the very beginning of the talk.

"At our last meeting we discussed a passage at the beginning of Mesillas Yeshorim which stated that man was created to derive pleasure in Hashem. It was explained to us that even in this world, a person can experience an otherworldly bliss.

"I wanted to ask about this idea from a personal point of view. When my father was an officer in the army, he once took me hunting in the Galil. I must admit that it was a very pleasurable outing. The ambush, weapons, the suspense and finally, the actual thrill of the kill. It was real excitement. I, myself, cannot think of anything that can compare with going hunting. I read that the nobility in Europe, a leisure class of wealth, indulged in hunting on a regular basis; it was one of their main preoccupations and pleasures. But I can't see this in the same category as what the author of Mesillas Yeshorim describes as the greatest bliss possible, something that one can savor in this world."

"Let us deal with your question as it relates to your personal experience. You say that nothing compares to the thrill of the hunt. Who can analyze for us what causes this sensation?"

Tzachi: "First of all, the accomplishment, the conquest. Here is an animal that you could never catch with your bare hands, but through your cunning and skill, you succeed. It is this ultimate accomplishment, I think, which provides the thrill and, to be sure, creates the whole atmosphere of suspense and danger, of ambush, stalking the prey and finally shooting it down that enhances it. What an exciting climax!"

Noam: "The noblemen in Europe used to go hunting on horseback, with hunting dogs and bugles. It was a very dramatic event. Upon their return from the hunt, they used to hold a great feast featuring meat from the animals they had caught, like rabbit or deer. They used to boast about their hunting prowess, exaggerating their feats of bravery with each telling. The memories of these hunting parties and the feasts that followed would entertain them for many weeks afterwards."

The Rov: "Right, and now that you've explained the factors causing the pleasure in hunting, we have a common basis to compare the pleasure of a Jew fulfilling mitzvos. In order to create such a basis, let us use hunting terminology to describe the life of a Jew living according to Mesillas Yeshorim.

"First of all, you must regard any mitzva that you succeed in fulfilling as a chase, a prey that you managed to capture. It is your catch, your trophy, the object of your successful trapping. What you've acquired will not be consumed in a banquet that same day, leaving behind some misty memories that recede with time. Instead, these mitzvos become your personal property, an eternal acquisition. The benefit and elevation which your personality and soul gain from this `hunt,' this tracking down and snaring a mitzva, remain engraved upon them forever more. In addition, this benefit is not frozen and static but bears dividends and produces fruit in kind without cease.

"Before venturing on a hunt, you must have some notion about the nature of the beasts you are stalking: what they look like, the places they frequent, where their habitat is, their habits and how to catch them. In the direct language of Mesillas Yeshorim, this is Torah study. One who is not familiar with the mitzvos may pass alongside game that is rare and precious, like lions and elephants, and not even be aware that they are within arm's reach and that he can capture them. Furthermore, in rabbit hunting there is no room for speculation whether you shot it down or not, whereas in Torah, without a thorough knowledge of Torah, a person can deceive himself into thinking that he `snared' a big mitzva, a real catch, when in truth, he only grasped some air or may even have been trapped himself in some sort of sin.

"Let us study the Mesillas Yeshorim Jew who rises in the morning to a routine day. What is his normal schedule? Every single day of his life is strewn from beginning to end with numerous opportunities to perform mitzvos of all kinds and sorts. European noblemen went forth to hunt deer, foxes and rabbits, and perhaps wild boar, while our Jew is on the alert for the 248 different `animals,' that is, opportunities through his 248 limbs. And each of them has seventy faces, if not more. He needs finely tuned senses to be able to identify them for they are camouflaged and do not bear a sign upon them: `Mitzva!'

"Is our Jew tense? He is certainly on guard and alert since he is responsible for the day's catch; he must make a showing for himself by nightfall and the gap between minimum and maximum looms wide indeed. And it all depends solely on him. No hunting dogs, no faithful servant will execute the hunt in his stead. The lying-in-wait, spying the prey, the struggle to shoot it down, all these activities are executed within the man's personal arena, his home turf. The animal called `chesed' has a thousand faces and it can cross his path a few dozen times in a single morning. The tension which grips the person who is aware of this, and the feeling of accomplishment of one who has succeeded in filling his game bag with this type of booty is indescribable. All of his talents, skill and know-how, his Torah knowledge and personal store of information, are mobilized for trapping mitzvos and the pleasure of success cannot be compared to any other thrills. This is the pinnacle of supreme effort which encompasses the entire person, and his reward in the subsequent satisfaction resulting from that success is commensurate to the effort invested in achieving it.

"You have doubtlessly noted the happiness radiating from the faces of these `hunters' — mitzvah hunters. Torah leaders always look content and if something mars their happiness, it is the pain of one who discovers a vast treasure which, even if he filled all of his pockets with it, is forced to leave behind quantities of gold and diamonds. The exultation of these mitzvah-hunters is described as "one who finds plentiful spoils" and cannot possibly take it all. The pleasure of the hunt and its achievements spreads itself throughout the length of the day, day after day, until old age.

"You are right, Danny: hunting does supply good reasons for pleasure, but these are best found, in their full impact and abundance, precisely by the Mesillas Yeshorim Jew and no European aristocrat going forth hunting once a month to shoot down several kilo of meat, while surrounded by servants and hunting dogs, can achieve any measure of pleasure to compare with it.

"But this does not begin to touch the trapping of snakes. European nobility never went hunting for snakes and have no idea of the thrills involved. This is a dangerous escapade and any failure is fatal. While you are intent upon concealing yourself from the prey, you, the hunter, are the quarry of the snake which is seeking to attack you from behind! This is really scary. Snakes are dangerous prey and one cannot describe the pleasure felt by one who has had a narrow escape from an encounter with one. Perhaps a person who has safely crossed a live mine field can understand the feeling.

"Success in this type of hunt is achieved by evasion and withdrawal, actually, by standing stock still so that the snake, with his particular type of vision, cannot see you so long as you are motionless. There are 365 types of `snakes,' each one and its particular power of hypnosis which it activates upon anyone venturing into his vicinity. A tremendous power of containment, suppression and self control is required in order to subdue such a snake and grasp hold of it by the tail.

"I see that you are surprised. Snake hunting will need a separate talk, by itself, since it is not recognized at all in European minds. The courage and sophistication of containment, of inaction, are not a recognized form of combat. Yet, this science is acquired by the Mesillas Yeshorim Jew from the onset; he is trained in its tactics from childhood on.

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